By : Frank Aronoff
Breakers Southern Section CIF title victory June 4 was the first in 78 seasons for baseball at Laguna Beach High School and the school’s 42nd all-time crown.
Head coach Mike Bair survived some second-guessing by school administrators that held an impromptu evaluation of the coach and program after the slow 0-6 start, which included games against the toughest slate in the program’s history. In fact the 10 non-league losses by Laguna were against teams that earned a 148-84 regular season record.
League provided a positive addition to the win column and the return of injured Ashton Goddard to the squad was expected to help and it did. Goddard pitched a three-hit complete game shutout of seventh-ranked Division 3 finalist Woodbridge on March 29, showing he had the stuff to give Laguna a one-two punch along with the other key starter Blake Burzell.
Laguna won league for a fourth straight season, but it wasn’t easy with a comeback 4-3 victory over second-ranked Calvary at home on May 10 followed by a 1-0 last inning win over the Eagles at Vanguard two days later.
Breakers could not have made it to the CIF finals without the games won on the pitching trio of Blake Burzell (66.1 innings), reliever John Ogden (school record 18 appearances) and Will McInerny, who took the mound for the final five innings against California in the quarter final playoff game and three innings against St. Bonaventure to close-out the semifinals. Each playoff game had a moment where the team could have folded, but every time they found a way to persevere and pull out an improbable victory culminating in the near perfection at San Manual Stadium, which wasn’t without drama.
You wonder if the tough start made a difference in the drive this team had to win a title.
The effort to build a winning program at Laguna started 10 years ago with parents working hard to navigate the non-competitive local Little League that had seriously declined in participation since 1996. They also believed they could change the baseball culture at the high school that after over 40 years that had produced only three winning seasons since the last league title in 1963.
Joining the Orange Coast League in 2007 brought an expectation that Laguna could finally compete in league play, although they carried 69-60 combined record against Calvary, Costa Mesa and Estancia entering initial OCL play.
In the first four seasons of the league, the Breakers went 6-6, 7-5, 7-5, and 6-6. Not exactly dominating baseball, but finally in 2011 Laguna produced a team record 15-0 league run and a 27-3 overall mark before a quarterfinal loss at Oaks Christian.
The successful four-year turnaround by coach Jeff Sears resulted in his departure to Servite and there was concern that the single year success would not carry on.
JV coach and Thurston teacher Mike Bair was given the job and although the squad finished 18-9 overall for the second best record in school history, the team finished a disappointing third in league. Since then, Bair’s squads have dominated league play (57-2) and his managing skills have improved each season.
It took 67 years, but winning baseball is now part of Laguna with at least a .500 record in 10 of the past 11 seasons and eight straight years to the playoffs.
No question Laguna coaching staff was well-prepared for the playoffs in this championship run. If you missed “the game” you can watch the replay at www.foxsports.com/west/prepzone-stream. Take time to enjoy this sports moment in Laguna history.
Fall 2016 Sports
Lots of changes will take place next fall when the school’s 83rd term gets underway.
John Shanahan takes over as Laguna’s 17th head coach in football and the squad opens on Friday, Aug. 25 at Bolsa Grande.
Girls volleyball opens their 45th CIF sponsored season with a new coach as Carson Tanner takes over as Raul Papaleo departs the area to be closer to his family.
Breakers will also be welcoming a new athletic director, the 19th since 1934, with the departure of Ted Clarke, who after a year is taking a similar position closer to his home.
The biggest change for next season will be the new post season placement for playoffs as each school will be placed in a playoff division independent of the other schools in their league based on recent playoff performance and subjective evaluation of the program strength on a yearly basis.
This new format affects football, water polo, tennis, volleyball, soccer, basketball, baseball and softball. In these sports, Laguna must finish first, second or third in the Orange Coast League to earn an automatic post-season playoff spot.
Will McInerny Named MVP
UCLA-bound Will McInerny capped the improbable run by Laguna Beach High School’s baseball team to the CIF title with his selection as the top player in the 2016 playoffs.
McInerny was also selected to the 21 member all-CIF baseball team, in an announcement Monday. Joining McInerny on the all-CIF team was pitcher Ashton Goddard, a junior, who threw two playoff shutouts including the championship game, and coach Mike Bair as the division the coach of the year.
Separately, in boys volleyball, Ohio State-bound Tyler Alter and libero Cole Paxson, a junior, were selected to the 13-player Division 2 all CIF team.
Cole Paxson Added to National Team
Laguna libero Cole Paxson, who just completed his junior season with the Breakers, was selected to the 12 member USA Volleyball under-19 team for the NORCECA Continental Championships, which were to be held in Havana, Cuba, June 24-29. The team is hoping to qualify for the 2017 FIVA boys championship.